Fort Worth City Council passed a $1 billion general fund budget Sept. 19 that included several million dollars of supportive funding for the region’s EMS provider.
Tuesday night’s vote set aside $4.2 million to help MedStar, which serves 14 cities across 436 square miles in Tarrant County. MedStar has struggled to fund itself independently over the past few years. Declining reimbursements from Medicare and Medicaid, rising costs and higher call volumes have all played a part in the provider’s financial issues.
Now, the city is commissioning a third-party study of existing EMS structures and potential alternatives. Mayor Mattie Parker has assembled an ad-hoc committee to help city staff and the consultants through that study process; a final report is expected by April.
The money approved in the budget is intended as a stopgap until the study is complete. It won’t actually change hands until a vote in mid to late October, according to city spokesperson Reyne Telles.
“It’s great to see that [funding] come to fruition, or at least in the first steps,” MedStar CEO Ken Simpson said. “We’re looking forward to the future council meetings for the allocation, and we’ll continue working with the ad hoc committee through this process.”
While Fort Worth has set aside that $4.2 million, it might not spend all of it. Instead, the city is actively talking with the other cities MedStar serves to see what they’re willing to invest, which would cut down on Fort Worth’s costs. None have formally committed funding yet, City Manager David Cooke said.
Simpson, who is involved in those talks, said the member cities expressed willingness to invest, but the timing is difficult. Several are in different stages of their budget process — more than half have already finalized their budgets, making it a tall task to commit money right away.
“We understand that for some of the smaller jurisdictions, it’s not as easy to come up with money you hadn’t planned for,” Assistant City Manager Valerie Washington said.
Because Fort Worth makes up the majority of emergency calls to MedStar and represents the largest coverage population, she said the city anticipates contributing about 90% of the $4.2 million sum when all is said and done. This was the first time in recent history that all of MedStar’s member cities sat down and had a roundtable forum to discuss the provider’s financial future, Washington said.
“We wanted to make sure that we’re all on the same page and coordinating as we have this consultant that’s going to start working and making recommendations,” she said. “And really those recommendations are probably going to come with a price tag.”
District 6 council member Jared Williams made it clear that he expected the other cities, like Saginaw and Haltom City, to chip in.
“I do not support us footing the whole bill for this temporary bailout,” Williams said at the Sept. 19 meeting where the budget was passed.
District 8 council member Chris Nettles previously told the Report he also expected the rest of MedStar’s member cities to put their own money forward to support the system.
“How do I tell my taxpayers that we’re gonna fix MedStar’s issues, but no other municipalities’ taxpayers are going to [help] fix them?” Nettles asked in a July interview. “I don’t think Fort Worth is going to take a liking to using tax dollars to help other areas out, if they’re not using their tax dollars to help.”
Michael Glynn, president of Fort Worth’s fire department union IAFF 440, said he’s comfortable with the plan in place and happy that council members are paying close attention to MedStar’s financial situation. IAFF 440 has previously raised concerns about the EMS provider, and suggested that Fort Worth consider a shift to fire-based EMS.
Frank discussions with city management about MedStar’s financial situation should’ve happened earlier, Glynn said. Regardless of the eventual outcome of the study, he emphasized the union’s commitment to helping the other member cities continue a high level of EMS service.
“I think that’s really important, that we are 100% looking out for the best interests of the people being served, the citizens being served, by those member cities,” Glynn said.
The $4.2 million will allow MedStar to offer market rate adjustments to its employees, remount 18 ambulances and retain its north Fort Worth deployment center, according to previous reporting. With the funding, the EMS provider doesn’t anticipate any changes to the level or quality of service provided.
“It will also allow us to continue investing in our office of the medical director and the clinical expertise that exists in MedStar, which is known nationally,” Simpson said.